Nearing 80 years of age, Pastor Gary is riding his Harley, running in Marine Corps marathons, and beating out the competition in billiards tournaments. He is a preacher who brings the grace of God into the most unexpected places. In my life, I have been privileged to call him “Uncle Gary” as he was married to my Aunt Judy for 29 years.
Because of his influence, I grew to know God in such a personal way. He taught me so much; for example, how to share Jesus in my day-to-day life, how to have grace for myself and for others, and how much Jesus loves me. Also, he has done the same for others. He has touched countless lives by sharing the hope of Jesus by going where people need to hear the Gospel the most.
After living near Washington, D.C. for over 20 years with his wife and dedicating their lives to their local ministry, Aunt Judy and Uncle Gary bought a farm. They wanted to enjoy their golden years in a place where they longed for most in life. However, after decades of marriage, he lost his wife to kidney failure. Understandably, he took the loss of his best friend, his constant cheerleader, and his life partner extremely hard.
Wanting to retreat from the city, Gary searched to find solace in their country home. He told the “Man” upstairs, “That’s it. It’s just you and me, God. I’m moving to this farm. I need to heal. I don’t want to preach, teach, or do anything other than just be with You.” Yet, God had other plans. Pastor Gary might have moved to the farm—to get away from the busyness of the city and the people— but God had other plans such as bringing people who needed to hear the truth of Christ. Consequently, these people God brought into his life are now around Pastor Gary’s kitchen table. That table is where we meet Gary Ehlert – on the farm.
The sun was beginning to set behind the horizon on that beautiful farm in West Virginia when a cloud of dust barreling up the road reminded Gary that he had failed to prevent entrance to his property. Remembering, he thought, “Oh no, I forgot to lock the gate.” The truck, oblivious to its unwanted presence, kept coming towards the house.
Sauntering from his haphazard parking spot and heading up to the front porch, the man called out, “Hey there, neighbor! I just told the missus that I was gonna go up there and see that preacher. I brought some ham and bean soup. She’s a pretty good cook, if I say so myself. I hope you don’t mind.” My uncle replies, “No, no – of course not. Please come in.”
Polite, obligatory conversation ensued. The neighbor asks, “Have you been getting acquainted?”
My uncle responds, “I’ve been trying out the local churches.”
“There’s some good ones ‘round here. Have you been to the one up on the corner?”
Answering my uncle said, “I sure have. The people seemed nice. I liked it there.”
“I’ve been told I can’t join there because I’m not married to my woman, so I don’t go anymore.”
Pastor Gary replied, “Oh, I see. Well, how long have you been living together?”
“Have you been faithful?”
“Oh, yes sir!”
“Did you love her?”
“About as much as a man could.”
Pastor Gary shares, “I have some good news for you neighbor. You might not be welcomed in some church buildings, but the real Church isn’t made up of a big old building. The real Church is made up of people who have chosen to love and follow Jesus – and there is no pre-requisite to be able to attend that church.” When my uncle talks about Jesus, there’s a spark in his eyes; people who come in contact with him see that Light. He can’t help it. It comes from a genuine love of God and love of others. He loves to tell people the truth of the Gospel.
The neighbor seemed flabbergasted that Jesus Christ might actually accept him, despite his “living in sin.” Pastor Gary went on to explain how we all have sinned and no one is perfect – not even after they become Christians – on their own accord. “You see, even though the flesh will always continue to sin and desire sin, the Lord has made us perfect and righteous in His eyes, once we accept the gift that Jesus gave us by dying for us.”
One can almost see the neighbor’s eyes growing wide and then misting as the revelation flows over him. Jesus loves him – as he is. Jesus will make him perfect – first in the spirit when he believes and then in the flesh beginning here on earth (although we still struggle with sins born from human nature) and finishing the work when he is home with Christ in heaven.
“I feel like I’ve been talking to an angel” the neighbor utters with a sense of awe.
Laughing it off, Pastor Gary comments, “I’m no angel. The message sounds angelic, but the messenger is always as messed up as you.”
The time came for the neighbor to go home – back to the missus. His parting words came thoughtfully from the open door of his truck, “You got me thinking about God, you know.”
In his typically casual and insightful way, Pastor Gary responded, “Well, that’s what you came for, isn’t it?”
Walking inside his home and closing the door, he chuckles to himself. Pastor Gary said out loud to no one in particular other than the Lord of all the earth, “I get it God. I can run, but I can’t hide.”